“A song is a succession of sounds, / Each one expressing in its own way / Some idea that was not expressed in another one.” – John Donne
Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem is a marvellous creation. It is painfully beautiful and has been performed all over the world for nearly a century now. But at the time of its first appearance, the work was greeted with horror by those who loved it as well as those who hated it. It is painful, explosive, and theatrical. It is one of my favourites. The story behind the composition of this incredible musical masterpiece reveals much about the life of one of Italy’s most respected composers.
On May 22, 1873, Verdi learned his longtime friend and motivator Alessandro Manzoni died. Verdi was too mourned to attend his funeral, and the whole country was in the grief of the loss of one of its cultural representatives. Manzoni had an amazing amount of influence on Verdi. But the piece wasn’t just about Manzoni, in 1869 bunch of composers decided to compose a Missa (Messa per Rossini) to memorialize Rossini; Verdi composed the part of Libera me. Verdi went to Milan and proposed composing a requiem, to honour the memory of Manzoni, Verdi notified the mayor of Milan that he’s ready to compose a requiem to play in Manzoni’s death anniversary. But in that era, Bourgeoisie was highly against Church, in the beginning, they weren’t leaning towards requiem, but in the course of events, Verdi’s submission had been accepted with gladsomeness.
The Requiem is a musical piece, not a play.
It’s not a play. The Requiem was composed to honour the memory of Manzoni, not to honour the death of Christ. In the eighteenth century, some composers tried to compose religious music that was based on the story of the Bible. That kind of music is forbidden by the Catholic Church(See: “Gloria” and “Requiem Aeternam”).
Premiere of Requiem in San Marco
The piece was going to vocalize in the church of San Marco in Milan, 4000 people were ready for the piece and some people couldn’t even enter the church. The church was filled to the brim. After four soloists Maestro Verdi set foot in. He was standing up there with his silvery beard and red-hot eyes. With the arrival of priests, the piece has begun to perform. A vast majority was praising the Verdi but one, Hans von Bülow, was brutal in his criticism even before the premiere of the piece he called the piece “Opera in disguise” and called him envious of Rossini, and said the impresarios in Paris wouldn’t appreciate him because the piece was lack of pleasure. But everyone else liked and admired Verdi and he was going to perform the Requiem in London and Paris.
In summary, Verdi’s Requiem is a beautifully haunting work of music. It is dramatically artistic and breathtaking to experience.